Friday, December 19, 2008

The point

Le point c'est tout.

The point is everything.

Fencing often presents the student with conundrums, and with paradoxes.

Things are not always what they seem.
This is true because what they SEEM is always colored by the perceptions, the conceptions, and the limitations of the person who is doing the seeing.

If one hopes to see the truth, one must remove the "self" from the equation. Remove the biases, the misperceptions, the slants, remove the emotions that cloud vision or that focus everything in an unbalanced way.

I've known this for a while now.
Learning to control emotions, not to allow them to get in the way of perception, is one of the most valuable things about the sword, most easily harnessed in everyday life to great benefit.

But it wasn't until yesterday that I truly grasped the other part of this, the physical part.

In order to see truth, and to act in truth, one must remove the PHYSICAL self, as well.

But this is clearly not possible. The physical self is, well... physical, right? Solid. How can you BE, if you have no physical self?

A lovely paradox.

I have long enjoyed that in fencing, there are a large number of pairs of things that must be balanced. I have often told students that one of the most challenging things is not so much what you must do, what must move, but what you must NOT do, what must NOT move.

Or, if you wish, yang/yin.

These are what fencing really is, the balance between these things, in each moment, in each muscle, each thought, each movement, each intent.

But how do you know which to do, to be, at any given moment? And how do you move between them?

The simplest answer is that you do so by feel.

But how do you know WHAT you should feel?

This is what came up in my lesson yesterday, that the concept, the understanding, can only come AFTER the physical ability exists. You must be able to do something, to feel something, before you can understand it. You train the mind by training the body FIRST, not the other way around. This is counter to almost all education- because almost all education is cognitive based, not psycho-motor based.

But let's back up a bit, to how I got there, and why it was yesterday that I reached a point I had not felt before.

There have been changes in my understanding of fencing, for all the years that I've been doing this. Some things come quickly, others not so much, and still others change as I change.

Recently, I've been considering the difference between the point PULLING the rest of the body into a lunge, and the feeling of PUSHING the point with the thrust, much like a punch. The interesting part is that almost everyone, almost all the time, equates intent with force, equates intense focus with tension, and these things are not necessarily connected in the way that most people connect them.

In fact, with the sword, it is important that these connections are NOT assumed.
It is not about forcing things to happen, it is about allowing them to happen.

Again, I've known this for a long time. But as words, as thoughts. As mental constructs.

Yesterday, I realized, incorporated, something important.

It is that while fencing, I exist only in two "places."
The point.
And my center.

The point pulls me to action.
My center provides the energy for that action.

The less anything else is consciously involved, the better.

In other words:
I do not move the sword with my hand, but with my center.
EVERYTHING I do originates there.

It is not I, not my body, nor the sword, that moves towards the target, it is the point.

The point is everything, moved by the energy of my center.

And when that happens, when it really is that way, in perfect focus, perfect relaxation, in the moment, the point pulls me into the lunge, of its own accord.

I do not lunge.
The lunge, lunges me.

It is as if time and space open, and create the possibility, and therefore, the inevitability, of the lunge, and the lunge creates itself to fill that opening.

Like lightning. The path for the lightning comes into existence, and the lightning fills it.

Between my center and the point... is the space in which I simultaneously do and do not exist.

That is how the physical self is removed from the action.

It is difficult to put this all into words that anyone else might understand at all.

That's okay.
I need to understand it, and I do. At least a little, and at least from the perspective I have right now.

All I ask of anyone reading this is to understand that there is more to fencing than meets the eye, literally and figuratively. And that it is this, the tangible intangible, that I find so compelling.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Evaluation time

It's the end of the college semester. That means evaluation time.

We always read the evaluation forms. Most of the comments are fairly similar, but sometimes, there are a few that stand out. I thought I'd share a few.

We see a wide range, from the ones who find something they didn't even know they were looking for, to the few who really don't get it at all. From those who appreciate the structure and discipline, to those who really just wanted to grab a sword and have at it.

Sometimes, the interesting part is the pairs of comments we get from the same class.

Like these:

Student #1: "I would not recommend it because it isn't much exercise."
Student #2: "I expected to have sore legs and arms and my butt too. Oh yeah, they were definitely met."

Student #1: "No, fencing is not as physical as I thought it would be. You don't even get a sweat."
Student #2: "I would recommend it based on the physical demands (good exercise)."

So what is up with that? Remember, these are two students from the exact same class, same semester.

You might assume that the first student is in better shape than the second student, that what is easy for one, is difficult for the other.
You would be wrong.

We can easily predict which students, if any, will make a comment about the class not being physically demanding enough, not being a good workout.

It's simple.
It's the ones who don't DO the workout. The ones who show up late, phone it in, and/or stumble through the moves without any actual effort or attention. The students who, at the end of the semester, look about the same as they did on the first day.

Contrast that with those who are putting in physical and mental effort, who are trying to gain some level of skill, who pay attention to details as best they can, and really try to get it right. They never complain about it not being difficult enough.

Likewise, we often have pairs where one person says there is too much discussion, and another says that's the best part. Pairs where one says the class moved too slowly, and another who says it should slow down. I don't believe we have ever had a class where we got only one comment from the usual pairs.

Some of the more fun comments, mostly from the newly converted, highly enthusiastic students:

"Yes, it is amazing, take it now."
"You would be a crazy fool not to take this course!"
"It is a class out of the ordinary."
"I learned so much and built strength both in a new physical field and mentally."
"Where else could you unleash your desire to be a chivalrous knight without seeming immature?"
"Not something you're likely to find anywhere else."
"Yes, because the instructor is insane, but it's a good insane."
"Make it once a day, not once a week, dammit! It hurts to wait for this class!"

My all-time favorite comment: "Workout with happiness!"

And some of the puzzling comments:

"I would suggest introducing the actual olympic game of fencing and allowing students to duel one another."

Wow. What class did they think they were in?!?
1. This isn't olympic fencing. Period.
2. Allowing students to get killed would be frowned on, I believe.

"It focuses more on technique than I expected."

Hmm. So what DID you expect it to focus on?

"I would recommend it, but only if they really wanted to learn to fence."

And you needed to point this out why, exactly?

In the recommendations for improvement section:
"A little less fencing instruction."

And what should we do instead? Go bowling?

"Be less concerned about safety."


From the rapier class:
"Lighter swords."

Uh... sorry. If you want to work with lighter swords, don't take the class with the heavy ones. It's that simple. If you want to learn to use a rapier, you pretty much have to use... a rapier. Who knew?

These are a few of the comments from the past couple of years. Stay tuned next semester. I'm sure there will be more.